Sunday, March 16, 2008

Stars in Our Eyes

"You don't have to be a star, baby, to be in my show..." Marilyn McCoo stars

ROBERTA: Don't take this the wrong way, girls, because of course each one of you is a star in my eyes! But I wrote this post from Left Coast Crime in Denver where the guest of honor this year was Stephen White, one of my steady favorite crime fiction writers. White has just seen the 16th book in his Alan Gregory series published this month. I own every one of these books in hardcover--they feature a clinical psychologist in private practice in Boulder, Colorado. I haven't loved all the books equally, but I do love the world he's constructed and the people he's filled it with. (Okay, not all of them. I'm really hoping the wife will be cut loose, but that's another story.) Like me, White worked as a psychologist before he started writing so he really understands that universe. And he gets it absolutely right in his books. And he's a huge commercial success to boot. I'm full of admiration.

He doesn't travel the mystery convention circles much, so a sighting is fairly rare. Which of course didn't stop me from asking him for advice about getting published back in 1999. I can't remember what he told me but there was a long line of fans waiting so when the throat-clearing behind me began to drown out our conversation, I finally had to step aside. A couple years later, I invited him to appear on a panel of psychologists writing crime fiction. He politely turned us down--family obligations. And a few years after that, I asked if he'd consider reading DEADLY ADVICE for possible blurb. He reported that his publisher told him he had to stop, he was becoming a "blurb whore." It's even possible that that was the second book I'd asked him to blurb. Umm, these things do run together.

So anyway when I saw him behind the book counter at the hotel in Denver, I quickly bought DEAD TIME and hurried over to introduce myself and ask him to sign it.

"I know who you are," he said.

Of course he knew who I was, see paragraph two above. And then he wrote a lovely inscription about how it was an honor to be on my bookshelf and I stumbled off happy, with stars in my eyes.

Your turn to dish now, Jungle Red Writers. Tell us about meeting your favorite writer.

RO: Oooh, this is a tough one. I've met so many great people in the last year. My, ahem, admiration for a certain tall, thriller writer is well-documented so I needn't go into that again.

I'd have to say two women have blown me away with their kindness and generousity - and I was a fan anyway...Carolyn Hart and Barbara D'Amato. The first time I met Carolyn, we'd had a few email exchanges, but I never imagined she'd remember me..she called me Ro, as if she'd been doing it for years. I instantly loved her. And I was lucky enough to sit at Barb D'Amato's table at Malice last year. She's extremely cool, and maybe just as tough as Cat Marsala.

Then again, I gushed pretty good when I met Laura Lippman. I'd just read What the Dead Know, and had sent her an email. I said hello to her at Malice and she said, "didn't you send me an email?" I was like a fourteen yr-old meeting Miley Cyrus. This is embarassing..I'd better stop at those three...

HANK: Well, Ro, you and I both share the tall-thriller-writer syndrome. But it's only because he's so incredibly talented.

I must say, I was pretty intimidated when I first met Hallie. She was teaching a writing class, and I felt like a third-grader. I once wanted to tell Sarah Strohmeyer what an amazing panel she gave, and it was all I could do to put a coherent sentence together. Katherine Hall Page, as gracious and warm and friendly as anyone could be. She came up to me to introduce herself! Puh-lease! And Sara Paretsky--beyond charming. Here I was, new as anyone could possibly be, with my brand new book cover just out that day, and she insisted on seeing it. Just as if she wasn't at the top of the Pantheon (can that be?) and me just a beginner.

I gushed at Julia Spencer-Fleming, I'm embarrassed to say, and was hoping she didn't notice. I talked about the genius and warmth of John Lescroart so much that my usually patient husband began to roll his eyes. But the worst I've ever been was with Robert Pinsky. I asked a question at one of his poetry readings, and he said "good question, it's clear you've read my stuff." Or something like that. And twinkled at me. (or so I thought.)

Well, that was it for me. Pinsky Fan Club president? Any day.

You've got to admit, Roberta, that it shows what a wonderful community this is. If you had asked--who was NOT nice to you? I can't really think of anyone.

Oh, wait. (Smiling.) Yes, I can. But she doesn't write mysteries... And I'll never tell.

HALLIE: The biggies for me... I got to interview Michael Connelly about plotting at last year's Book Passage Mystery Writing Conference. I'd boned up by reading his then latest, THE NARROWS, and my copy of the book is still papered with Post-Its with quotes and questions I wanted to ask. Turns out he plots by the seat of his pants, but an analysis of the book's structure reveals that tried-and-true three-act structure. It's simply the organics of the novel. Second biggie was when I met Ian Rankin at R. J. Julia's in Connecticut and interviewed him for a piece I was writing for Writer magazine. He's got rapscallion eyebrows and still smokes, and his real passion is the city of Edinburgh. Another seat-of-the-pants writer who lets his characters guide him, and oh what chararcters they are. Third--Nancy Pickard. I interviewed her at Bouchercon in Madison for another article. I'd loved-loved-loved VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS and was dying to know how she'd come up with her opening scene, which is a knockout, so perfect for setting up that story and those characters. Turned out, the opening scene was the LAST scene she'd written. Three interviews...restored my faith in writing from the gut (combined with prodigious talent, of course).

JAN: Okay guys, since you have hit all the crime thriller stars, I'm going to go in COMPLETELY different direction. On Valentine's Day, my husband and I were doubledating with my good friends Beth and Steve. Beth works for public television on the Between the Lions children's show. We were joined on our date by one of her colleagues and his girlfriend. Her colleague was Chris Cerf, whose name you may or maynot have ever heard, but he's a songwriter. And he wrote all my favorite Sesame Street songs, including Put Down the Duckie and Monster In the Mirror.
Yes, I admit, I was starstruck over Seasame Street.
Besides always watching the show with my kids,I had the tape of those songs and my son and I sang every single song on that tape pretty much every day for months....years....??? Honestly, I felt like I was meeting one of the Beatles. I pretty much gushed all during the dinner. The best part was that Chris, unlike the Beatles, apparently never gets a lot of gushing, so he was thrilled too. Then the six of us went out to hear Marcia Ball sing jazz at Skullers and she covered one of Chris's grown up jazz tunes that night in the club. It was pretty cool. (And my son, now 18-years old and writing his own songs, thought so, too.)

ROBERTA: Ok now I've thought of tons of other names, but enough about us! Let's hear from the Jungle Red readers: what writers in the flesh gave you a thrill? (Oh heck, you know what I mean...)


  1. I'm pretty darn proud to meet any writer whose much-loved book sits on my shelves (I don't keep books I don't love), and I'll happily take 'em to dinner if they'll let me -- AHEM! -- but for whatever reason the only writer I've ever hyperventilated over wasn't a writer at all, but a prima ballerina who had written a couple of books:

    Margot Fonteyn

    My favorite dancer of all time, who said to me, when she signed her book at the Harvard COOP in the early 80s, "Do you dance?", and I squeaked "Yes ma'am, but how I ...I ...I ... wish I had your Rose Adagio."

    To which a man behind me said, "Honey, we all do."

    And she laughed, and signed a very sweet postscript to her autograph,
    and if my house catches fire I'm getting out my dogs and cats and grabbing that book on the way.

  2. At the first (and only) Romance Writers national conference I attended, Nora Roberts was signing, and there was no line in front of her table, so I went up and introduced myself and we talked a bit about Irish genealogy. And all the while I kept thinking, this woman made sixty million dollars from writing last year, and she looks so normal.

    More personally, I encountered cozy writer Deborah Donnelly through a loop, and we met and had dinner at that same conference, three years ago. I was touched that she treated me like a "real" writer, although I had little to prove it at that point.

  3. Put Down the Duckie?! Okay, yes, of all the folks you guys mentioned, that one got me the most. We LOVE that song. That would be the person I'd want to be stuck in the elevator with. :)

    It's so hard not to giggle at times like this. I go to book signings at the local kids' bookstore, ostensibly for my son, but really to meet my favorite authors. And it's so hard to act mature. My son manages much better than I do.

  4. Susannah, you have the most interesting life! YOu met Margot Fonteyn? I would have been speechless, too. (I'm a miserably failed ballerina. We're talking age 9 here. With longings to be Giselle...and ability more like Shrek.)

    When I worked in Atlanta, I went to a party hosted by Alicia Alonso (1975? 76?) And in her bathroom, all glittery and mirrors, she had a huge glass container, sparkling, filled to overflowing with those little perfume samples.

    It was so luxurious.

  5. Thanks Becky,
    Glad to find a fellow Sesame Street music groupie out there. I know it sounds crazy, but it was really an awesome, not to mention, influential album in my young-mother life.

  6. Jan,

    Not crazy. There is so much tripe out there, to have someone like Jim Henson creating truly funny and truly honest characters for me and my son made those years much better.

    Of course, now that Cookie Monster is Fruits & Vegetable Monster, we don't go there a whole lot! :)

  7. Oh, Alicia Alonso was beautiful. I remember her having very neat, fast, light feet.

    Lucky you to be guest to her hostess!

    When I was a kid, I read biographies or autobiographies of a whole host of famous dancers, but Fonteyn is the only one I ever met.

  8. Look what I found on the always-interesting Reviewing the Evidence website! In light of our conversation, read this mini-interview with (the divine) Sara Paretsky..

    RTE: Describe yourself in a sentence?

    Paretsky: My friends call me Dr Demento.

    RTE: What's the one record you'd take to a desert island?

    Paretsky: Don Giovanni.

    RTE: What did you want to be when you were growing up?

    Paretsky: I wanted to be Margot Fonteyn.

  9. Woot! I gotta find that author and buy her lunch. };>

    One of my more weird parallel-universe experiences was standing in the Harvard COOP in November 2005, flipping through a newish biography of Fonteyn that spared none of the often grim, sometimes tragic details of her life she did not include in her own autobiography.

    Strange it was, too, to stand there reading about her in almost exactly the same place (albeit much-changed) that I'd met her some 24 years before.

    Bless you, Margot, your like will not come again.

    Thanks making that connection to the other site, Hank!

  10. Hank, I remember the Pinsky thing. We were doing that poetry scam story for 7-News and I called BU PR to find a real poet type to comment on it. Came back to you like, "Uh, some guy named Pinsky? A poet Laureate or something? Think he'll be ok to interview?" I'll never forget your face! :)

    My "I'm not worthy" moment was when Liz Maverick and I got to hang out and have lunch with Sherrilyn Kenyon at Comic Con after the whole RWA costume controversy. She is not only a talented writer, but an amazing, wonderful, sweet person.

    The one I most want to meet is Bret Easton Ellis. I keep hoping I'll see him wandering through Manhattan...